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Review by Ruth Mittelholtz published in Haiku Canada Review October 2016 Volume 10 Number 2.
Note: The haiku quoted are copyright the individual poets.
Off the Beaten Track: A Year in Haiku. Boatwhistle Books, 10 Princes Road, Teddington, TWII ORW United Kingdom, www.boatwhistle.com. 2016. ISBN 978-1-911052-01-2. Perfect bound. 224 pages. ₤12.00.
Off the Beaten Track: A Year in Haiku presents new work by a different poet each month for twelve months, each poet contributing a haiku a day. Twelve artists each provided an illustration.
Half the writers are experienced haiku poets, half new to haiku. The intention, according to the flyer inserted into the book, was to “situate the book within the tradition of English-language haiku, while also seeking to extend its boundaries through the inclusion of ‘outsiders’ with respect to that tradition.” Five of the poets currently reside in the UK, two in the USA, and one each in Canada, Belgium, Ethiopia, Japan, and Italy.
Boatwhistle Books was established in 2015, a project of Hamish Ironside and Mike Fell. Ironside is one of the experienced haiku poets in the book, Fell an energy researcher and former publisher. Off the Beaten Track is the second of two books offered so far. According to their website, Boatwhistle was established “with the aim of publishing singular books for singular readers. We uphold impeccable production and editorial standards in making our books available to customers worldwide at affordable prices. We are not exactly non-profit, but we are so unlikely to ever make a profit that we might as well be. In other words, we are in it for the sheer love of it.”
The subtitle, A Year in Haiku, invited a reading of the poems in order from beginning to end. To give a small taste of the experience, here is one haiku from each month starting with the first poem of the book and the year, and ending with the last.
What we have here lost in the rain
is a gate in a wall I smell the sheep reviving
With its timetable of opening hours in my jumper
Hugo Williams, January Hamish Ironside, February
snow-cum-hail a hearse
two colleagues flirt up from the valley
in the open plan wet with blossoms
Matthew Paul, March Michael Dylan Welch, April
cloudy morning public restroom
coffee asparagus overwhelms
refrigerator hum the urinal cake
Michael Welton, May Christopher Herold, June
A silent black sea meadow flowers definitely cremation
The ship’s a blazing city!
Blunt as Mary’s angel.
Sally Read, July George Swede August
autumn equinox I thought they’d switched
her side of the bed To the Euro here
and mine But it seems they still use Zlotys.
Bob Lucky, September Momus, October
Selling books, Strand. Old year, dying:
Worst dread realized: we, here, with fowl
‘Fred will be your buyer today. & beast, dark & light
Fabian Ironside, November Éireann Lorsung, December
We haiku readers are abruptly dropped into unfamiliar territory with Williams’ striking first poem and his sometimes wildly idiosyncratic contributions which follow. Come February, we are transported without warning (unless one has read Hamish Ironside’s work before) into the familiar territory of haiku solidly grounded in current practice. The journey continues along that path, except for small detours through the lonely, minimalist world of Michael Welton, and the deeply spiritual, complex poems of Sally Read. The last three poets, Momus, Fabian Ironside and Lorsung, toss us back out to the edge of the haiku world and beyond.
It’s a wonderful trip through diverse voices, themes, moods, and states of reality. It is also a thought-provoking and sometimes startling excursion through various degrees of haiku-ness.
Scraps of dandruff crowd the parting of my student antagonist
Worker ants carrying breadcrumbs to their pregnant queen
Or poems lost in the forest of the imagination?
There was rain in the first hours. ripening field tomatoes . . .
The garden arched its back. the baby bumps of two Refreshed, she slept on. migrant workers
Sally Read George Swede
George Swede has published nineteen books of haiku; Williams and Read are new to the form, although they are well-published in other genres. The editors say in the Afterword “the hope was that [the non-haiku writers] would bring to the project the ‘beginners mind'” and “The point of the project, then, was to both juxtapose and integrate the two camps [. . .]. They go on to say “So while this is a book of English-language haiku, it is indeed off the beaten track.” The other poets new to haiku (besides Williams and Read) are Michael Welton, Momus, Fabian Ironside, and Éireann Lorsung.
The book offers the opportunity to read a substantial number of poems by twelve distinctly different writers. In fact, it could be considered a set of twelve books. And there’s also the pleasure of browsing the individual poems. Whether located within today’s definition of the haiku form, or somewhere on the blurry border, or far off the beaten track, they reward with fresh subject material and vivid imagery. A few more examples:
no one waves back At her table:
to the people on the boat red candles, thin china,
heading out to sea us in one room again
Hamish Ironside Éireann Lorsung
Her small hand in mine, rural tavern
the old road from church to sea. a row of suspenders
Christ lodged in my teeth. at the bar
Sally Read Christopher Herold
The illustrators, based in the UK or USA, are “twelve of the most distinctive artists [the editors] could find.” Their black-and-white artworks in diverse styles are responses to the mood and subject material of one of the poems in their assigned month. The production standards in general are high, as promised by the publishers. The haiku are arranged one to three per page, allowing each its own space. The attractive cover design complements the content of the book, depicting twelve leaves of different kinds and colours floating on a deep blue background.
Off the Beaten Track: A Year in Haiku is an unusual, provocative and highly enjoyable book.
Review by Ruth Mittelholtz
A series of compressed-charcoal and soft-pastel drawings. Dimensions of each drawing: 15 inches H x 30 inches W.
NIGHT was created for Dialogues Within, a four-person art show at The John B. Aird Gallery, Toronto, September 1997. The images were inspired by Lake Michigan as seen at night from a Chicago high-rise hotel.
METHOD AND MATERIALS
Compressed charcoal and soft pastel on white Stonehenge Rag. Lascaux Acrylic Fixative. Exhibited without glass.
Drawings inspired by the land forms of the American Southwest and Northern Ontario. Dimensions: approximately 15 inches H x 20 inches W.
METHOD AND MATERIALS
Compressed charcoal and soft pastel on white Stonehenge rag; Lascaux Acrylic Fixative.
These are among the first pieces I exhibited publicly. They were shown in various group and juried shows around Ontario including:
1994: Untitled Earthscape 1 received the Purchase Award at the Central Ontario Artists Association (COAA) Annual Juried Members’ Show, Etobicoke City Hall, Etobicoke, Ontario.
1995: Earth Series I received Honourable Mention at the Insights Multimedia Juried Competition, Wellington County Museum and Archives, Elora, Ontario.
I was delighted to come across a German translation of my “under the stone ledge” haiku (see previous post, Snake Portrait, right below this one) on the website of the German Haiku Society, along with several other haiku inspired by snakes, which I have quoted here. Note: Copyright belongs to the poets and translators.
Die Schlange glitt davon,
doch ihre Augen
blieben im Gras.
The snake slipped away,
but her eyes
remained in the grass.
Kyoshi Takahama 1874 – 1959
a grass snake
my thought of it
meine Gedanken an sie
A. Kudryavitsky (IRL/RUS)
crossing the road
and still on both sides
the reticulous python
überquert die Straẞe
und ist noch auf beiden Seiten
Karen Hoy (GB)
under the stone ledge
unter dem Steinvorsprung
Ruth Mittelholtz (CDN)
German translation from Japanese by Dietrich Krusche. English translation from German by Google auto-translation.
2nd, 3rd and 4th haiku:
German translation from English by, I believe, the author of the essay, Klaus-Dieter Wirth.
The haiku above were found in the essay “Literary Reference” by Klaus-Dieter Wirth, in the Journal of the German Haiku Society, Dec. 2014, pp 4-19.
In the essay Wirth discusses honka-dori, which he defines as “the clever reference to an earlier known text of haiku literature,” and notes that it has a long tradition in Japan [Google auto translation].
He quotes the first haiku above as an example of a well-known haiku and the second as a haiku that refers to it [i.e. it exhibits honka-dori]. The 3rd and 4th, Wirth says, according to the auto translation “perhaps emerged regardless . . .” i.e. they are probably not examples of honka-dori [my interpretation of the auto translation].
The essay includes many haiku inspired by subjects other than snakes, some originally in German, some originally in English or other languages in which case a German translation is given along with the original language.
If my vagueness about what the essay actually says about honka-dori has sparked your interest, and if you read German, you can find the essay at the above link.
Copyright for quoted haiku belongs to the poets and translators
Post is copyright Ruth Mittelholtz 2016
I quickly spot him and aim. Shoot. It’s not a very good photograph. Too much shade. I want a better shot of a rattlesnake. I return again and again to the Bruce Peninsula. They avoid me.
I see other snakes. Thankfully, a huge water snake at the edge of a swamp escapes with a sudden swish and a splash before I step on him. At Cabot Head Lighthouse a Hog-nosed Snake pokes its snout out from under the boardwalk and peeks up at me. That’s a little too close to a snake to suit me. I scurry right along.
In Algonquin Park, I come across a rather handsome fellow I don’t know.
After a few nervous seconds, we both settle down and I get a couple of decent photos. But he’s not a rattlesnake.
A pretty green snake in MacGregor Point Provincial Park doesn’t move at all as I take a whole series of photos. Eventually the truth dawns.
photographer shoots a bright green snake dead on the road
I complain to another hiker about the lack of rattlers. He tells me I’ll see them for sure under the stone ledge at the edge of the alvar at Singing Sands. Well, I’ve been out there many times and have yet to see a rattler, but, once again, I take the woodland trail to the end and step down from the two-foot stone ledge onto the bedrock. This time, I turn around, bend down and take good long look into the shadowy world of the underside of the ledge, not too close, of course. No luck.
under the stone ledge
In my garden a garter snake is threading its way through the daisies. Might it be looking for a home, perhaps in the stone foundation of my house? I wave my hat to shoo it away, towards my neighbour’s house. It comes to an abrupt halt and won’t budge. Taking a positive view of the situation, I realize I have a willing, live and not too dangerous model, right in my own backyard. But my camera is in the house. Should I go and get it? No. Better to stay and keep an eye on him in case he makes a dash for my cellar.
but our breathing muscles
flicking its tongue
Finally he (she?) ends the standoff and sets out in search of a more hospitable location, leaving me without a snake nursery to take care of, or a photograph.
I learn that the Massasauga Rattlesnake is a timid soul with a striking distance of less than a foot. It prefers to hoard its venom to immobilize mice not men, or women. I continue to hunt them, more boldly now, and they continue to hide from me.
Written for the Saugeen Trading Community Newsletter, Summer Reading Edition, August 2016.
under the stone ledge and garden snake/nothing moving were published in the Haiku Canada Members’ Anthology 2013 and 2014
copyright Ruth Mittelholtz 2016
energy moves through water
creating ever-changing riffles
an infinite number
no two alike
I am powerful
when I have my camera in hand
I capture and imprison the evanescent
waves water light time
light waves are electric and magnetic fields
energy on the move
visible light illuminates reflects
bounces off water
each ripple has its shining instant
* * *
The Saugeen River near the town of Priceville, Grey County, Ontario. August 3, 2008.
Saugeen Road Trip is an ongoing project.
©Ruth Mittelholtz 2016